In the Shadow of America’s War

James Webb’s review of Anthony Shadid’s Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War provides a brief and sobering look at the administration’s policy in Iraq in the last three years and really makes me want to read the book. There are lots of non-fiction books about Iraq at the moment, of course, but what makes this one stand apart is that Shadid is an Arabic-speaking Washington Post reporter who went to Iraq before the invasion and that he was not embedded with military units.

Indeed, through Shadid’s eyes, we see clearly the chasm between occupier and occupied — a rift that runs far deeper than the usual ethnic divisions between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that dominate U.S. debates about the country’s future. “The Americans in Baghdad framed the tumult in Iraq from the perspective of their own heritage and expressed them in the familiar vocabulary of democratic ideals,” he writes. “They had come as liberators.” But the Iraqis’ own “vocabulary was shaped less by a reflexive celebration of democracy and freedom and more by their own religion, nationalism, and material circumstance.” For Iraqis, “justice” trumps “freedom.” Most important, for Shadid’s interlocutors, legitimacy is the key to future Iraqi politics, pitting the Americans’ Westernized constitutional scheme against less formal structures based on religion and tribal leadership. “The Americans never understood the question; Iraqis never agreed on the answer,” Shadid writes. “Who had the right to rule? As important to Iraqis was the question of where that right came from — God, the gun, money, law, tradition?” Visiting Fallujah, he surveyed “the virtual incomprehension between ruler and ruled, staring across a religious divide.” The custodian of a local mosque told him, “We don’t accept humiliation and we don’t accept colonialism.” A teacher added, “We’ve exchanged a tyrant for an occupier.”

Here’s another rave review, from Mother Jones.

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